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WhatsApp Blackout in Brazil

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After about 12 hours, a Brazilian appellate judge on Thursday 17th December ordered the lifting of a 48-hour suspension of the services in Brazil of Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp phone messaging application, overturning an order from a lower court.

The interruption of WhatsApp’s text message and Internet telephone service caused outrage in Latin America’s largest country, where the company estimates it has 100 million personal users, and led to angry exchanges on the floor of Congress.

WhatsApp is installed on 92.5% of Android devices in Brazil, making it the most installed app in the country, according to SimilarWeb, an internet intelligence and marketing company.

Rival messaging system Telegram said on Twitter that it received 1 million downloads in Brazil in one day due to the outage. Telegram was installed on 2.35 percent of Android devices before the blackout.

A judge in an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo had ordered the suspension of WhatsApp’s
services from midnight on Wednesday (0200 GMT Thursday). The order was made after WhatsApp, despite a fine, failed to comply with two judicial rulings to share information in a criminal case.

Judge Xavier de Souza, who overturned the lower court order said: “Considering the
constitutional principles, it does not look reasonable that millions of users be affected as a result of the company’s inertia to provide information.” However, he then recommended that a higher fine be imposed on WhatsApp.

The incident highlighted growing international tensions between technology companies’ privacy concerns and national authorities’ efforts to use social media to recover information on possible criminal activities.

Mark Zuckerberg (responding from his nursery) said: “Until today, Brazil has been an ally in creating an open Internet. I am stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp.”

According to Band News TV, the criminal case involves a drug trafficker linked to one of Sao Paulo’s most dangerous criminal gangs. The trafficker allegedly used WhatsApp services while committing crimes, and the court wants access to his communications with others.

WhatsApp said it was unable, not unwilling, to comply.

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Christian James-Watkins

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